William Jessop, engineer


Barnsley Canal

William JessopJessop learned and first practised his trade in Yorkshire. He was summoned back, when in August 1792 the Aire and Calder Company launched the Barnsley canal project to run from their line near Wakefield past Barnsley to Barnby Bridge near the Silkstone coalfield, and wanted Jessop to survey and report on it, working with their own engineer Elias Wright and superintendent William Martin. Jessop came in September to confirm the survey Wright and Martin, now with John Gott junior's help, had made, and report that it would 'be a very eligible Line to be Adopted...', whereupon the four were asked to '...prepare a Plan and make an Estimate...’.

The final Barnsley line was 15 miles long from its entrance lock; thence the canal ran by two more at Agbrigg and a flight of twelve at Walton to a pound level to the junction with the Dearne & Dove Canal outside Barnsley, and then on to Barugh, where a flight of five more took it to the coal-loading terminal basin at Barnby. Five colliery railways from the section above Barnby were included in the Bill. Locks took craft of 58ft x 14ft 10in: those in the Barugh flight were of 8ft fall, those at Walton and Agbrigg of 7ft 6in. Jessop appeared with Elias Wright on the Bill in 1793, and the Act was passed on 3 June, Jessop then being paid £189 19s for what he had so far done.

To build the canal, Jessop went to two old contacts: John Pinkerton as contractor, and Samuel Hartley as resident engineer. It proved an unhappy arrangement, which was to land Jessop in sad trouble.

A minute book entry of 17 October 1793 throws light on Jessop's way of working out a contract price:

It being represented to this Meeting that Mr. Jessop.... ‘preferred making such Estimate and Value upon a Section of the Line of the Canal and part of the said Work being already done and other part in a progressive state, Ordered that the Surveyor do make such Section as soon as possible in Order that the same may be sent to Mr Jessop and procure such proposed Estimate with all due Diligence, both for what is Executed and may be Executed, during such time as the same can be procured, and that Mr. Pinkerton do in the mean time proceed in the works.

Whereupon follows:

I do hereby agree to proceed in the Execution of the Works and to Abide by the Estimate of the said Mr. Jessop. Signed by John Pinkerton.

So great was the pressure of work that it was eight months later that Jessop’s report and estimate was received, whereupon the company approved it and ordered a draft agreement with Pinkerton to be prepared and cleared with Jessop. One section of the report read:

On observing that the ground on each side of the Dearne valley is chiefly Rock I have reason to believe that an Aqueduct of Masonry will be done at less Expence than an Embankment and I have accordingly drawn a Design for it and Computed it ... to cost £3,000.

This aqueduct of five 30ft arches - sadly now demolished - replaced Jessop's earlier idea of an embankment and a single 30ft arch.

Jessop reported on the works in January and November 1796, and again in July 1798, when he supported Pinkerton's claim to extra-to-contract payments. The canal was opened from the Aire & Calder to Barnsley on 8 June 1799; the upper part followed early in 1802, soon after Jessop had again reported. It had been completed by other contractors, Pinkerton having left it with most of the work done. Jessop was present again in March 1803 upon talks about water supply.

Pinkerton had lost on the contract through unforeseen difficulties in the work itself, rising prices, and what he claimed to be unreasonable interference by Hartley, and Jessop sympathised with him. He claimed £5,000 above the contract, and also £2,000 he had been advanced by the company in 1796. Sadly, though arbitration was several times suggested to the company, they persisted to the end in 1812, when they were awarded their £2,000 with accrued interest.

In the course of the quarrel, Pinkerton in 1805 brought a Chancery action against the company. The Master of the Rolls then proposed arbitration, but was critical of Jessop's conduct in 1793 and 1794. Given that Pinkerton had, as we have seen, agreed in advance to accept Jessop's figures, the Master considered that Jessop's position was that of an arbitrator and that these should have been chosen as equally fair to the company and to Pinkerton. Instead of which:

Mr Jessop because he was the Engineer employed by this Canal Company supposed he was their Servant also in fixing the prices at which this work was to be done & that he was to act in their behalf as against …. Mr. Pinkerton.

The Master went on:

'There is not in this case the least ground for impeaching Mr Jessop's professional skill or his moral character but he unfortunately has fallen into a mistake with respect to the nature of the Situation in which he was placed...'.

Jessop seems to have thought that his prices should be on the safe side as regards the company, for if the contractor should suffer too severely the company could compensate him. The Master did not think much of 'This notion of Mr Jessop's that the Company would set all to rights by that liberal Discretion which he took it for granted they would at all times exercise.

One cannot help feeling that Jessop had been unwise in trusting the canal company to act liberally by their contractor, and so had behaved unfairly to an old friend and colleague; that Pinkerton had been most unwise in agreeing to prices he had not seen, and then in agreeing to those he did see without clear provision for extra costs; and that the company behaved harshly in refusing arbitration over and over again, and sticking to the letter of their contract in spite of inflation. Pinkerton comes best out of an episode that must have given Jessop much pain.

Extracted from ‘William Jessop, Engineer’ by Charles Hadfield and A.W. Skempton
(See Publications=>Bibliography page for more information on this book)
Chapter 6: ‘Three Great Canals: The Grand Junction, Rochdale and Barnsley',  page 133


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